Tuesday, February 18, 2014

An incapacity to stop seeing what is not there to be seen

Ann Smock writes, in the introduction to her translation of Maurice Blanchot's The Space of Literature:
          The Anglo-American critical tradition might be said to elucidate, and thus to honor, the actual object which writers offer us. We take the work to be what artists make in the course of a labor, a struggle perhaps, to which they alone are equal; or perhaps they bring it back to us from the depths to which they alone descend. Attentive to masterful technique and perfected form, we seek to comprehend the profound achievement of the blackest text by Kafka, say. We try to do justice to its strong and genuine character, even if we acknowledge shifty ambiguity to be the necessary vehicle of this authenticity, or recognize playfulness as the special grace of this rigorous perfection, or understand that misery is what this treasure holds. But the Kafka that concerns Blanchot is the nameless young man who cannot seem to write at all. He is reduced to lamentable games. The author of The Metamorphosis had to suppress and surpass him. The profundity of The Metamorphosis is, for Blanchot, the infinite depths of uncertainty and futility which its perfection masks—which the work shows only by masking—but which we seem actually to see laid bare sometimes when the masterpiece, like Eurydice when Orpheus looks back, disappears.
          To see something disappear: again, this is an experience which cannot actually start. Nor, therefore, can it ever come to an end. Such, Blanchot insists, is the literary experience: an ordeal in which what we are able to do (for example, see), becomes our powerlessness; becomes, for instance, that terribly strange form of blindness which is the phantom, or the image, of the clear gaze—an incapacity to stop seeing what is not there to be seen.

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